After starting the season 7-0 with seven consecutive three-set wins, the Centennial volleyball team ran into some turbulence, dropping sets in four out of its next five matches. While the Eagles won all of those matches to improve to 12-0, there were some questions about their vulnerability.
But after Tuesday night's straight-set win (25-20, 25-21, 26-24) at second-place Mt. Hebron (9-4), clinching their fourth county title in the past five seasons, it's clear what the Eagles are capable of.
"This brought back our intensity that we used to have," said senior setter Lexi White-Torruellas, who tallied 26 assists in the win. "Now I think we're back and ready to go into Howard (on Thursday) and then the postseason. We're going for states, all the way ... We want our spot back as being the best."
But as much as Centennial wants to be the best once again, every other team around wants to beat the 14-time state champion.
Last year the Eagles had a 49-match league win streak ended by Atholton, and finished the regular season, 10-3, ending a run of three-straight county titles.
Defending county champion River Hill pushed the Eagles to a fifth set earlier this month, and despite the score, Mt. Hebron pushed them to the limit on Tuesday night.
"Two great, evenly matched teams, three great games, unfortunately we didn't win any of them," Mt. Hebron coach Michael Moynihan said. "I thought our defense was spectacular. Our back row was stellar. We have a great defense."
The Vikings stayed with Centennial point-for-point through each of their first two sets, never allowing a run of more than five points, and even held a 23-17 lead late in the third set.
But then Centennial called a time-out, only its second of the match, and came out of it to go on a seven-point run highlighted by two kills and a block by sophomore Meghan Kelley.
"I kept Meghan Kelley in all the way around so it gives me a little more back row offense," Centennial coach Larry Schofield said of his talented underclassman.
With the match then tied 24-24, Centennial had wrestled away the momentum, and after two thunderous kills by Trisha Mockapetris that ricocheted off the walls of the gymnasium, the match was over.
"When we need that point, Lexi knows that if Trisha is front row, that's where we're going," Schofield said. "Lexi is in charge of the offense. She knows who to set and when to set."
And White-Torruellas has become especially good at spreading the ball to all of her weapons. On Tuesday, Mockapetris, Kristen Ritchie and Kelley each finished with eight kills.
On the season, Mockapetris — a returning first team all-county selection — now has 151 kills, Kelley has 113, Ritchie has 79, and junior middle hitter Jessie Link has 78.
"That's exactly what I want," Schofield said. "You don't know where we're going ... I want that balance and that's what we strive for."
White-Torruellas said that having so many powerful hitters with different styles at her disposal makes her job more fun as well.
"I love all of our hitters. In setting you don't usually get a thrill, but with them killing the ball it brings me into it, like, 'I set that up!'," she said. "They do great, and they mix up their shots."
The Vikings were led by junior outside hitter Ravyn Richardson, who transferred to Mt. Hebron from Colorado when her mother and father, both government employees, moved to Maryland for work.
Richardson finished with a match-high 14 kills, including seven in the third set, and has a younger sister in the Mt. Hebron volleyball pipeline.
"I got (Ravyn) for another year and I got her sister for two," Moynihan said, grinning. "That worked out well for us."
Emme Petti chipped in six kills and two aces, and Marissa Duncan added four kills and two blocks. But the Vikings noticeably missed the offense and blocking of senior captain Erin Walter, a returning all-county selection who has been hampered for several weeks with a sprained ankle. Walter did get to contribute from the service line Tuesday night, recording an ace in two attempts, and hopes to return for the playoffs.
While the third set collapse was disappointing for Mt. Hebron, Moynihan was proud of his team's effort, and says that 2012 has been a productive season so far.
"At the end when they made that little run, that was the difference. We were positive the whole time, we were just a little more tentative on our passing (at the end) and that was the difference," he said. "If we win (on Thursday at Wilde Lake) we'll be 10-4 on the year, and that's a really good season."
Around the league
Atholton 3, Marriotts Ridge 0
Glenelg 3, Reservoir 0
Howard 3, Oakland Mills 0
Long Reach 3, Hammond 0
River Hill 3, Wilde Lake 0